Pastor George is away this week officiating a wedding in New York, so I (Loren) thought I would talk with you about my favorite topic — worship!
Have you ever wondered why we worship at ABC like we do? We have a hybrid style of music — born of our diverse heritage…in both the Baptist and African American traditions, and led by a multigenerational group of musicians. As a relative newcomer, I love hearing about the people who have come before me as songleaders, organists, choir directors, and musicians.
But walk into any other American sanctuary (the larger the louder!) and you might see big rock bands, and cool lights and video, and fog machines; the whole thing looks like the Taylor Swift concert at the Rose Bowl last weekend. Sometimes, God gets pushed out of the center of “worship” by all the cool theatrics! But sometimes (if I’m honest with myself) I want that “experience” in our worship times at ABC. It looks attractive, sounds awesome, and might even bring more people to our wonderful church, right? It’s great to feel that “megachurch” worship experience, with the lights down and everyone’s hands raised and the emotions flowing…isn’t it?
Worship, as defined in the dictionary, is “to honor or reverence” or “to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion/submission” and it comes from the Old English weorthscipe, translated worthy-ship. So when we sing “You’re worthy of my praise” we are literally translating the word worship! But it’s one thing to sing worship, and another to live it out: true worship would have to be defined by our whole lives — by where God is on our list of life priorities.
In Sunday’s sermon, pastor Connie spoke from Psalm 139:
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you.
The Psalmist is worshiping God in this Psalm. But let’s be clear: the author doesn’t really sound like they are having a theatrical experience with lights and fog! Instead, in the very next verse, the Psalmist implores God to fight against those who are bloodthirsty. He’s pleading for God to keep him alive.
Psalm 96:13 says that “all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” God’s promise when we worship is to 1) come [he’s already here!], and 2) judge us with righteousness and truth. I often hear people praying for God’s spirit to come in a worship service…but do we ask him to judge us? Sometimes that judging will feel good, and sometimes it won’t. What it will do is transform us; and that’s what God wants, much more than songs and experiences. (Note that I’m using “judge” in the manner that Isaiah does, which is more a process of refinement than a rendering of a verdict.)
So how do we worship? The Bible has some strong words to the people of Israel regarding how God wanted a different “worship” than they were giving:
Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
— Isaiah 1:14-18
I do believe that sometimes God loves it when we “stretch out our hands”…but in this passage from Isaiah, he’s going to “hide his eyes” from those outstretched hands because their worship is not accompanied by justice and repentance.
Worship is not a drug. Sometimes a worship service will make us feel better, but that’s not the point! Worship affirms and establishes the centrality of Christ in our lives. So, next time you are “worshiping”, check yourself: are you asking God to refine (judge) you, or are you hoping for an experience — a painkiller — to make you feel better?
A friend of mine from Sri Lanka writes this: “When we have a superficial view of what worship is, the result is a superficial and dichotomized Christian life. We may faithfully attend our Sunday worship service, but because we view only that as the essence of worship, we fail to develop a lifestyle of wholehearted commitment to God, an attitude of thankfulness, a commitment to financial stewardship, and a lifestyle of ministry. God is more pleased, and we are more fulfilled, when we develop lifestyles characterized by the fully-orbed (all-encompassing) worship described in the Old and New Testaments.”
I’m on a journey to discover that “all-encompassing” worship. It will take my whole lifetime, and it will take giving my whole life over to Jesus. I want ABC to be a place where people discover exactly how to become lifestyle-worshipers. Do you want to go on that journey with me?